How to keep customers coming back for things they don’t need.

May 6, 2008 | By | 5 Replies More

How do you keep customers coming back? Keep them constantly dissatisfied.

That is the topic of this article in Orion Magazine.  The author is Jeffrey Kaplan.  Here’s are a few excerpts from this well written article.   [Note:  you might be blocked from going straight into the article.  If so, go to the Orion link and then search for the article]. Kaplan can really analyze and some of his passages are gems:

[In 1929,] despite the apparent tidal wave of new consumer goods and what appeared to be a healthy appetite for their consumption among the well-to-do, industrialists were worried. They feared that the frugal habits maintained by most American families would be difficult to break. Perhaps even more threatening was the fact that the industrial capacity for turning out goods seemed to be increasing at a pace greater than people’s sense that they needed them.

It was this latter concern that led Charles Kettering, director of General Motors Research, to write a 1929 magazine article called “Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied.” He wasn’t suggesting that manufacturers produce shoddy products. Along with many of his corporate cohorts, he was defining a strategic shift for American industry—from fulfilling basic human needs to creating new ones.

By the late 1920s, America’s business and political elite had found a way to defuse the dual threat of stagnating economic growth and a radicalized working class in what one industrial consultant called “the gospel of consumption”—the notion that people could be convinced that however much they have, it isn’t enough. President Herbert Hoover’s 1929 Committee on Recent Economic Changes observed in glowing terms the results: “By advertising and other promotional devices . . . a measurable pull on production has been created which releases capital otherwise tied up.” They celebrated the conceptual breakthrough: “Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.”

What is the damage done by chasing mere wants with our dollars?

by 2000 the average married couple with children was working almost five hundred hours a year more than in 1979. And according to reports by the Federal Reserve Bank in 2004 and 2005, over 40 percent of American families spend more than they earn. The average household carries $18,654 in debt, not including home-mortgage debt, and the ratio of household debt to income is at record levels, having roughly doubled over the last two decades. We are quite literally working ourselves into a frenzy just so we can consume all that our machines can produce.

What is Orion Magazine?

“It is Orion’s fundamental conviction that humans are morally responsible for the world in which we live, and that the individual comes to sense this responsibility as he or she develops a personal bond with nature.”

On the topic of advertising and over-consumption, see also, the posts listed in “Wanna go to church? Tired of shopping? Go to “The Church of Stop Shopping.””


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Category: American Culture, Consumerism

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Niklaus_Pfirsig says:

    In economics parlance, dissatisfaction reflects the minimum expectation of the consumer. The advertising push is to convince the consumer that yesterdays reasonable expectation is no longer good enough for today, and you must send more money to stay current.

    The cellular phone industry is a good example.

    Back in the late 80's cellphones were expensive, and they let the user make phone calls without being tethered to a single, specific location. More than that, they were expensive, bulky, and quite the status symbol. The next trend was to make the phone smaller, lighter, cheaper and with better coverage, but still basically just a device for person to person voice communications. Some phones started adding personal organized functions and even video games. Before long, the organizer functions and games became a requirement for even the cheapest phones. Now most phones are expected to have Bluetooth capability, music player, and a camera, and the next push is for the text-messaging thumb-board type phones.

    So every few months, cellphone uses are expected to buy a new phone with more features and toss the old one.

  2. Edgar Montrose says:

    I have owned but one cell phone, a Kyocera K10 that I purchased about two years ago for $20, for use while traveling. It is about as bare-bones as cell phones get, yet it still has a few extra functions like a stopwatch, a tip calculator, an alarm clock, and a built-in flashlight. The only extra that I've ever used is the flashlight; I returned home late one night to find the electrical power was out, and I needed the light to see the keyhole in the doorknob. Other than that, it's just a phone.

    It's a strange sensation, actually feeling pride at owning the bottom-of-the-line.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Check out these additional articles on never having enough. The article on the top answers the questions: Why don't all of us just work less? Shouldn't we give up our "need" to purchase so much in return for a massively improved quality of life?

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's an especially well-written comment posted at Orion on the topic of working more hours versus fewer hours:

    The decision for a longer hour work day as well as the movement to force the Mothers to work too makes perfect sense. (Double the taxes too).

    Especially if the goal is to raise a child who has less influence from its parents and more from The State. Obedient consumers mesmerized by Pharmaceuticals, TV and Government Shock Doctrine.

    They took the history away from the youth and now they have no future as well. Network programming replaced the Oral Tradition. Each Generation a shadow of the next. Much was lost for none who live remember it. Until Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness means nothing more than getting the next Iphone. Eager to live in a WiFi saturated nightmare warping and humming 24/7.

    Totally lost, distorted and expendable.

  5. Vicki Baker says:


    The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

    by Wendell Berry

    Love the quick profit, the annual raise,

    vacation with pay. Want more

    of everything ready-made. Be afraid

    to know your neighbors and to die.

    And you will have a window in your head.

    Not even your future will be a mystery

    any more. Your mind will be punched in a card

    and shut away in a little drawer.

    When they want you to buy something

    they will call you. When they want you

    to die for profit they will let you know.

    So, friends, every day do something

    that won't compute. Love the Lord.

    Love the world. Work for nothing.

    Take all that you have and be poor.

    Love someone who does not deserve it.

    Denounce the government and embrace

    the flag. Hope to live in that free

    republic for which it stands.

    Give your approval to all you cannot

    understand. Praise ignorance, for what man

    has not encountered he has not destroyed.

    Ask the questions that have no answers.

    Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.

    Say that your main crop is the forest

    that you did not plant,

    that you will not live to harvest.

    Say that the leaves are harvested

    when they have rotted into the mold.

    Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

    Put your faith in the two inches of humus

    that will build under the trees

    every thousand years.

    Listen to carrion – put your ear

    close, and hear the faint chattering

    of the songs that are to come.

    Expect the end of the world. Laugh.

    Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful

    though you have considered all the facts.

    So long as women do not go cheap

    for power, please women more than men.

    Ask yourself: Will this satisfy

    a woman satisfied to bear a child?

    Will this disturb the sleep

    of a woman near to giving birth?

    Go with your love to the fields.

    Lie down in the shade. Rest your head

    in her lap. Swear allegiance

    to what is nighest your thoughts.

    As soon as the generals and the politicos

    can predict the motions of your mind,

    lose it. Leave it as a sign

    to mark the false trail, the way

    you didn't go. Be like the fox

    who makes more tracks than necessary,

    some in the wrong direction.

    Practice resurrection.

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